Waste not, want not.......
Updated: Feb 25, 2020
Having been brought up as a child in the built up area of the North East of England, green spaces, usually the municipal park, were where you went to on a Sunday afternoon with your parents, not even able to tread on the grass because of the numerous 'keep off the grass' signs. It was not surprising that when I first experienced my first childhood holiday with my grandparents in Kent, that I would instantly fall in love with the magical lure of the benefits of having a garden.
My grandparents had lived through two world wars and were already accustomed to being 'self sufficient'. Having dug for victory they were reluctant to give up their way of life to join the ever increasing convenience shopping of the modern day. In their half acre garden they grew enough fruit and vegetables to feed themselves and used preservation methods long before the freezer became the norm.
Runner beans would be salted in big earthenware pots. I felt so privileged when my nan would let me, at the age of 8 or nine, cut down the block of cooking salt into slices of crumbly salt, using a well sharpened carving knife. I used to stand on a chair at the kitchen sink, two hands on the top of the knife pushing as hard as I could. What great satisfaction it gave me to be able to help in this way. Learning how to string and cut runner beans took a little more patience for my grandmother, but it was a skill she was happy to pass on. Each day, once the beans were picked and sliced, some were set aside for dinner and the others were layered in the pot, starting with a layer of salt then a layer of beans finishing with a layer of salt until the pot was full. The pot was then sealed with its lid and kept in the cool larder. During the winter the beans would be scooped out, washed and soaked in water, ready for cooking.
Broad beans and peas were eaten as a seasonal vegetable. I'd never eaten broad beans until I came on holiday to Kent. I must admit I did not like them at all, but was encouraged (made!) to eat them by my grandfather, who held strong views on fussy eaters (and children!). I am so glad he did as broad beans are one of the crops I still grow, just to taste and bring back the memories (see previous post). I would never buy them fresh from the supermarket as they are usually too big and tough and not value for money.
As a child shelling peas was one of my favourite things I loved to do to help out in the kitchen. I used to sit on the kitchen step, with a waste bowl on one side, bowl on my lap and I would spend a long time shelling, eating and putting peas in the bowl. (you know the saying, one for me, one for the pot!). I would then feed the peapods to the chickens and watch them run after each other trying to steal from each other. Hilarious!
Potatoes were grown in the true fashion of 'first' and 'second' earlies, then maincrop. The taste of the newly dug potatoes cooked with freshly cut mint is a taste never forgotten and I try to mimic this each year, even if I only grow a small amount of potatoes in gorilla buckets. 'New' potatoes as they are known were used throughout late Spring to early autumn. The 'Old' potatoes or maincrop were all dug up at once and left to dry in the sun before storing them in hessian sacks. These were stored in the darkness of the garden outhouse where they were kept cool and protected from frost. These would be managed efficiently, checking for rot an used frugally until the Spring.
'New' carrots would be pulled for each meal, with new sowings made throughout the season. The main crop carrots were thinned out and allowed to grow big. Again, these were all dug up and spread along the garden path to dry off in the sun before burying them deep in sand, layering them much the same way as the runner beans. 'The clamp' as it was called was constructed in the garden outhouse, protected from the winter weather.
My grandparents did not have a greenhouse, which is surprising as they could have grown things like tomatoes and cucumbers, but they chose to buy these items locally. Tomatoes were plump, red and ripe in those days, not like the hard under ripe things you buy these days. They even tasted and smelt as tomatoes should. Nan always grew 'Little Gem' and 'Tom Thumb' lettuce, beetroot and scallions. Salad was never eaten as a main meal at 12 o'clock but for tea time meal at 5 o'clock. We would have eggs from the six hens which were kept at the bottom of the garden either as egg and bacon pie or just plain hard boiled with salad cream (no mayonnaise like today) or we would have cooked gammon and sausage rolls. New potatoes were always served, left over from the dinner time meal. Salad was a seasonal thing, only eaten in the summer months, unlike today.
Baking day was on a Friday, when everything was made from cheese straws, sausage rolls, rock buns, Victoria sponge (made with eight eggs!), shortbread. There would be variations in the cake such as coffee and walnut with lashings of coffee buttercream, or chocolate cake, cherry buns, sultana buns. Puff pastry was called flaky pastry made by the 'rough puff' method. Everything that was made on this day would last until the following 'Baking day', unlike nowadays when it would all go in one sitting!
Having six eggs a day when the hens were in the height of laying would provide an abundance, which meant meals would have to incorporate them to ensure they were not wasted. Eggs were used in sandwiches, egg, bacon, sausage and tomato for tea or breakfast at the weekend. Eggs would also be preserved in isinglas and kept for times when the hens did not lay so well. Isinglass is made from fish bladders and when added and heated with water, it produces a jelly like substance. The eggs were laid in the substance in big crocks and kept in a cool part of the larder. The eggs kept very well and were used very much in the same way as fresh eggs when they were not so readily available. Each one was checked to ensure that it was safe to eat before incorporating it into any dish.
My grandparents grew a lot of soft fruit including raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, gooseberries, red and black currants. Also plums and rhubarb (which is classed as a vegetable). In the summer, when there was a glut, Nan would bottle the soft fruit into kilner jars, ensuring there were at least three dozen bottles of raspberries, two dozen strawberries and the same of plums (Victoria and Greengage) and a dozen each of gooseberries, rhubarb and black currants. The rest was made into jam, plenty of Raspberry jam for sandwiching Victoria sponge together and strawberry, plum, gooseberry, blackcurrant jam and redcurrant jelly for bread and jam and scones. Nan had a special cupboard on the landing dedicated to storing all these along with the dozens of jars of marmalade made in the January of each year.
There was always bowls of fresh raspberries or strawberries and cream for puddings and teatime or gooseberry or summer pudding and crumbles and pies to eat during the summer through to autumn. Bottled fruit was used throughout the winter.
Beetroot was eaten freshly cooked, without vinegar although it was used when pickling beetroot and shallots for winter use. The larger onions were lifted and allowed to dry before tying up and hung in the outhouse.
Leeks, parsnips, sprouts and cabbages were left in the ground over winter and dug/picked as needed. Purple sprouting and spring greens were grown to continue the supply throughout Spring.
You know, there's a lot to be said for being self sufficient. You appreciate that every freshly picked fruit or vegetable, tastes far better than the mass produced, week old produce you find in the shops. Even the peelings, outer leaves, stalks etc go into the compost bin to feed future crops. It helps you appreciate the beauty of what is around you. Gardening, creating, watching things grow gives you heaps of satisfaction and provides positive physical and mental well being. Even if you do not have a garden, growing small amounts of crops in pots outside the door can still give you pleasure and a sense of achievement and purpose in life. Have a look at our Gardener's Delight Gift Box or Make Garden Cook Monthly Subscription. You could send these as a gift to yourself or others and help create more memories and pass on skills to others.
And there's much to be said these days in a time of environmental and economical changes............Waste not, want not!